Families, Soldiers, friends celebrate 4/10 homecoming
January 30, 2009
- More than 3,400 Soldiers return home
- KIA honored
For a redeployment ceremony, it was eerily quiet.
There were more than 3,400 Soldiers from Fort Polk's 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division - the Patriot Brigade - standing on Honor Field while Family members and friends spilled from the crowded bleachers and VIP seating area, yet it was eerily quiet.
Small groups of Soldiers and Family members of 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div Soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan moved to the front of each of the battalions within the brigade to place battle streamers on unit colors. The only sounds were those of commanders giving orders and the master of ceremony identifying units. But among the Soldiers and the crowd, it was eerily quiet.
After individual units had placed new battle streamers on their colors, Col. Mark Dewhurst, commander of the 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div, uncased the brigade's colors as Sgt. Nathan Hunt approached, two stainless steel prosthetics extending from beneath his black shorts to his shoes, crutches in both hands. Dewhurst and Hunt placed the brigade battle streamer earned by Soldiers of the 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div on the tip of the unit's colors.
Hunt eased back, standing as straight as his new legs would allow, his fellow Soldiers and their Families finally breaking the silence with a thundering round of applause officially welcoming the men and women of the 4/10 back from their nearly 14-month deployment to Iraq.
"That's powerful stuff," said Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk. "Our gold star Family members with the courage to join us, our wounded warriors assisting the chain of command in hanging battle streamers on those unit colors that will be here 300 years from now. This is a matter of record; they earned that."
Yarbrough thanked the large crowd who showed up for the Jan. 23 redeployment ceremony.
"Everyone here today honors our Soldiers with their presence," he said. "But I think you'll agree with me that our most honored guests today are the Families of six of our fallen patriots, the Family of Sgt. 1st Class David Hurst; the Family of Staff Sgt. Matt Taylor, on his fourth combat deployment; the Family of Sgt. Austin Pratt; the Family of Sgt. Mark Stone; the Family of Sgt. Joseph Richard; and the family of Sgt. Marcus Mathes, whose brother-in-law, Spc. Brian Harvey, is on the field in the ranks. Your sons sacrificed their lives so that this brigade could accomplish its mission. I know that your sons are with us at this very moment, and I know that they are pleased that you've decided to share their victory with us today."
Yarbrough also thanked the 4th BCT's Wounded Warriors.
"Your sacrifice was greatly appreciated by our nation," he said. "Thank you for your service and we pray for your full recovery."
Yarbrough said he believed the work done by the 4th BCT would go on record as the pivotal effort in the War for Iraqi Freedom. "It was with pleasure I watched you take over a tough piece of ground in Baghdad in November 2007, and face a determined enemy trying his very best to stop you," he said. "But you took charge and enforced a secure environment. That environment restored confidence in the Iraqi people; that confidence allowed Iraqi army and police forces to take over their own security; that environment allowed a fledgling government to take root and run its country; and in the end, that environment allowed us to achieve what America set out to do in 2003 - to ensure that region of the world remains stable.
"We rest easy tonight and America is tremendously proud and thankful that you Soldiers are protecting our freedom and keeping us the greatest nation in the world. Soldiers and Families who shared this sacrifice, this is your day; those are your battle streamers. Mission accomplished, well done and welcome home."
After Yarbrough's comments, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., spoke to the Soldiers and their Families. She said Fort Polk is the premiere joint training center in the world for some of the greatest troops in the world.
"Although you (4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div) are one of the Army's newest brigades, you're one of the bravest and fiercest and most successful," she said. "America is grateful for your service and bravery and we welcome you home."
Landrieu said she would do all she could to make sure the Soldiers who come through Fort Polk receive the finest training available. She then spoke specifically to the Soldiers facing her on Honor Field.
"For more than 225 years, men and women have put on uniforms to go to places they've never heard of to defend our way of life, fight for freedom and keep our flag flying as a symbol of hope for a world in desperate need," she said. "For many of those years, Soldiers have gone voluntarily. No one forced them to go. Each one of the men and women standing on the field today made an individual decision to go on their own accord.
"Their Families stood with them in that decision - wives and children, mothers and fathers - nervous, skeptical and proud all at the same time. As they come home, your Congressional delegation is going to do everything we can to honor your service, to make sure your government is doing at least half of what you have already done for us. We'll stand by your Families, your spouses and children."
Landrieu then spoke to the Families whose Soldiers were killed in Iraq, and the unit's Wounded Warriors.
"For those Families who have come today without their Soldiers, whose Soldiers are not here physically, but spiritually, I want to make myself and the members of our delegation available to you for many years to come," she said. "For those that are injured, I pledge that our team will do everything we can to assist you. We know that policies need to be changed and improved. We know we've made progress, but that more needs to be done."
After the ceremony, Hunt spoke about his return home.
"When I came home, it was hard at first on my kids and wife, because I was wounded," he said. "But then they realized that I didn't change any, and if I did, I just became more determined to do things."
Capt. Ray Bijolle, C Troop, 3rd Sqd, 89th Cav, said that the tour in Iraq has made him more aware of what he has at home.
"The toughest part of being there was not being here," he said.
Bijolle said he will always remember the people he met and the friendships forged.
"Most of the Iraqi people, I'd say 97 percent, want us there," he said. "It's the other 3 percent that are making trouble and getting all the headlines.
Staff Sgt. Nathan Smith, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry, said it was a relief to be home and see his son.
"I'd only gotten to see him for a couple of months before I left and now he's nearly two years old," Smith said. "It's great to be able to spend some time with him."
Maj. Jose Polanco, the executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry, said it felt "great" to be back home with family and friends and the Fort Polk community. He said the one thing he would always remember from the deployment was the courage and determination of the Soldiers, and the courage of the Iraqi people.
"They wanted us there," he said.
As for reaction from Family members, the smiles and tears were explanation enough. However, Judi Dewhurst, Col. Mark Dewhurst's spouse, said the event was "awesome."
"This is the most exciting time of our life, except that our fallen heroes aren't here," she said. "But they're with us in spirit and that means a lot."
Judi Dewhurst praised the sacrifices made by the Soldiers and Family members during the deployment.
"I so proud of them all," she said. "I'll look back on this and remember the camaraderie, friendship, bonding and sacrifices that were made by everyone. I'm humbled and honored to be serving with the Patriot Brigade."